Tim Lincecum pitches his first no-hitter as Giants romp

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SAN DIEGO — Tim Lincecum has two Cy Young Awards and two World Series rings, but he has never been better than he was Saturday night.

Lincecum threw a 148-pitch no-hitter against the San Diego Padres, striking out 13 in a 9-0 Giants win at Petco Park. The pitcher long ago nicknamed The Freak had the highest pitch count by a Giant in 34 years while throwing the first no-hitter of his illustrious career.

As he fights through his second straight rough season, Lincecum has faced increased questions about his ability to remain a starter. He has answered those questions by working religiously to find his past glory, and before the first two games of this series, Lincecum walked through the clubhouse drenched in sweat from intense workouts.

After the third game, he was drenched in Gatorade and champagne.

“It’s pretty surreal for me,” he said, a dazed look on his face. “I’m still kind of pinching myself. It feels good, but I don’t think I’ve really taken in the whole idea of what just happened.”

At the end of the historic night, as Yonder Alonso’s fly ball sailed toward Gregor Blanco’s glove in left field for the final out, Lincecum stood on the mound, pounding his glove with his fist. He was so locked in at the time that he was still thinking about the next set of pitches. Catcher Buster Posey jolted him out that mode, hitting him from behind with a massive bear hug. A huge smile broke out on Lincecum’s face.

“I felt it then,” he said. “I had been running on adrenaline the last couple of innings.”

Those last couple of innings put manager Bruce Bochy in an awkward position as Lincecum’s pitch count hit alarming numbers.

Lincecum had walked a batter in the first inning and hit one in the second while throwing 38 pitches. He settled into a groove, striking out six straight on just 21 pitches, but still was moving forward with a pitch count that looked as though it would force Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti to throw in the towel.

Lincecum had other ideas.

“He wouldn’t have talked to me the rest of the year if I took him out,” Bochy said, smiling. “There was no chance.”

It helped that Lincecum got better as the night went on. He retired 12 straight before Everth Cabrera drew a one-out walk in the sixth that got the bullpen stirring. Bochy had relievers ready from that moment on, but Lincecum kept cruising. He got a lineout to get out of the sixth, then retired the side in order in the seventh with help from Pablo Sandoval at third base. At the time, he had thrown 114 pitches, tying his season-high.

“He was getting better and better as the game went on,” Posey said. “That’s a rarity in baseball. Once you get to the 100-pitch mark, it’s usually time to shut it down.”

Posey said Lincecum dominated by moving the ball to both sides of the plate. Lincecum was pleased with his fastball command, something that has been missing often the last two seasons, saying it set up his changeup, slider and curveball. The repertoire led to 29 swings-and-misses, the most in his career.

That career started with four All-Star appearances in his first four full seasons. But Lincecum fell apart last season, going 10-15 with a 5.18 ERA. In the postseason, he was moved to the bullpen, a move that was discussed as Lincecum struggled early this season.

As they did with Matt Cain’s perfect game a year ago, the Giants gave Lincecum plenty of run support. Posey and Pablo Sandoval had three hits apiece, and Brandon Belt and Hunter Pence both homered. Pence’s homer came in the top of the eighth. In the bottom of the inning, he joined Gregor Blanco with a highlight that will live on in Giants no-hit lore. With one on and two outs, Alexi Amarista smoked Lincecum’s 131st pitch to right field. Pence made a diving catch to keep the no-hitter intact.

“You’ve got to push all your chips in at that point,” Pence said. “Any ball I can remotely get close to, I’ve got to lay out.”

Lincecum stared intensely at Pence as he walked off the mound, one fist raised.

“I thought it was a hit,” Lincecum said. “But Hunter comes flying out of nowhere and makes a Superman catch.”

Righetti visited with Lincecum, whose previous career high was 138 pitches, before the final two innings. But the right-hander insisted he was fine. He struck out Chase Headley in the ninth and then got two fly outs to left to end it.

The no-hitter was the 15th in franchise history and third in the last five seasons for the Giants. Lincecum’s 148 pitches were the second-most thrown in a no-hitter in the last 25 seasons and most pitches thrown by a Giant since Vida Blue threw 153 pitches in 1979.

“He’s had to deal with a lot. I couldn’t be happier for him,” Bochy said. “The pitch count put me in a tough spot, but you don’t get these opportunities often. I let him go.”

The rest was history.

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